This book first caught my eye because of the title. For those of you unfamiliar, “Veteran of the Psychic Wars” is the name of a song by American rock band Blue Ã–yster Cult. The song was co-written by British author Michael Moorcock (creator of Elric of MelnibonÃ©). I first heard it on the soundtrack of the 1981 animated film Heavy Metal. It resonated with me because the song is a science fiction ballad, and clocking at 8 minutes long, it seemed epic to my mercurial teenage attention span. Years later I would re-examine the lyrics of the song to discover that it could also be taken as an analogy for the post-traumatic horrors of Vietnam, or war in general.
The book, “Veterans of the Psychic Wars”, is, I am sad to say, not as profound.
Almost immediately, I was struck by the writer’s style. It’s rather straightforward and lacks depths. Scenery is described almost as if you were hearing narration about a film. He has a deft grasp for theatrical imagery, but his narration is stilted, unfocused, and rather sheepish. Instead of learning about our characters and what makes them tick, our protagonist is displayed as a dim-witted victim who is constantly in a state of being chased or attacked. I was barely a few chapters into the book and three separate fight scenes had occurred, none of which let a single character stand out as anything other than a prop dangled before me. You can almost sense the author behind his computer screen cackling about how cool the fights are, but completely impatient about every other aspect of his story.
The story feels like a runaway train heading for a dead end stop at ClichÃ© Station. The main character is Roman Doyle, a mild-mannered and nondescript man from contemporary Earth. He’s the long lost heir to the dynastic throne of a war-torn galaxy, is completely ignorant of his lineage and psychic potential, and is about as surprised to learn about all of this as a piece of cardboard. He’s a droll and unsympathetic protagonist whom we know virtually nothing about, except that his real name is Armon. (An anagram of Roman, and that’s about how deep the text gets.) However, when the big bad villain shows up to kill our so-called hero 40 pages in, we are treated to a distractingly long history of the battles the villain has fought and the people he has killed to become the ultimate evil jerk supreme who is going to beat our hero down to a finely ground pulp, and then doesn’t. Beyond these very anticlimactic assassination attempts and Armon’s, -er, I mean Roman’s, annoyingly knowledgeable but naive sidekick, there is not much there. The use of psionic powers is never really explained in much detail, some techniques are described in vague ways but never given any depth, and when somebody uses a power it just happens with little fanfare. Take away the special effects of mind powers and you have a fairly banal story that comes across as listing of events rather than the telling of a story. I still don’t even know what the main character looks like except that he is “of African descent” — in the twenty-first century that could mean a plethora of things and such simple niceties are never expounded upon later.
I think the text needs an editor more than anything else, because the author doesn’t seem to grasp how the story should unfold, who should be narrating, or how much information to reveal. He lays almost all of his cards on the table every time he describes something, revealing the intricately described names of people and places we have never seen and never will see but for some inexplicable reason we must be told about. The narrative too often varies from first person to third person within sentences. Whose perspective the story is told from also seems to shift based solely on the author’s whim. It’s a very confusing structure.
As I said before, the author has a deft grasp for theatrics, and though the book is tedious and unoriginal it feels like he simply wants the story to unfold at a rapid fire pace. His techniques are more akin to movies or TV shows than with literature. I am also constantly finding lines of dialogue or bits of text that shine through and make me think “This has a lot of promise!” and the deeper I went through the pages the more I felt like I was simply reading a first draft. But the book and the story never really gets any better. About halfway through I realized that I simply didn’t care about what was happening or why.
I suspect that Mister Trotman once heard the song I mentioned at the beginning of this review and thought “Oh! That sounds like it would be really badass and cool!” But unless the book receives drastic, sweeping revisions and a firm editor then I cannot under any circumstances recommend this book. There are certainly better books out there to risk fifteen pounds on.